In 1950, the venerable Joseph Horne Company Department Store introduced a special character to elevate its holiday advertising. An “impish, loveable elf” named Christopher Candycane debuted in December 1950 in a high concept Christmas window display. Twenty revolving vignettes illustrated his accidental creation by Santa’s cook, Aunt Samantha Snowball.
Christopher had magical powers originating from radar antennae on his cap. In these post-war years, radar technology was still high-tech enough to excite the imagination. Christopher Candycane’s radar sensed when children had fallen victim to disobedient impulses, personified by a vaguely sinister character named “Will-Not.” Horne’s holiday window number 10 showcased Christopher’s flight on a “Magic Fir Branch” to vanquish Will-Not, and his subsequent herculean Christmas Eve interventions. An original song recording featuring Santa and Christopher Candycane was paired with this window, created by legendary local music producer – and holiday Santa! – George Heid, Sr. That recording is held by the Detre Library & Archives of the Heinz History Center.
Christopher Candycane became a ubiquitous holiday presence in the 1950s. He was everywhere in Horne’s toy department and the main attraction at holiday parties in its Tearoom. In Horne’s 1951 holiday window, Christopher escorted a dinosaur from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History on a sight-seeing tour around Pittsburgh. In 1952, he embarked on an “Adventure in Storybook Land” and, in 1953, he and Santa hosted an animal costume ball.
Newspaper, radio, and television ads featured his elfin visage and voice. Christopher appeared in corporeal form as Santa’s assistant, portrayed by Horne’s employees donning replica swirly red-and-white candy cane leggings, red jackets, green ties, and striped tassel caps (compete with, alas, non-functional antennae). Most of these “live” Christophers appear to have been young ladies like the late Eileen Scanlon Rice, whose portrayal at age 18 of the “gay little ageless elf” was profiled in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph on Dec. 21, 1957. Teenage girls presumably best combined the elf’s diminutive physical presence and high voice, coupled with enough maturity and patience to handle his adoring public.
In keeping with the commercialization of the holiday season, Horne’s created plenty of merchandising opportunities to promote its Christmas mascot. But if newspaper advertisements are any indication, the popularity of Horne’s Christopher Candycane faded after 1963. A character by the same name achieved a more risqué reincarnation as part of Don Brockett’s holiday reviews of the 1980s and 1990s. But surely packed away in Pittsburgh attics are a few treasured Christopher Candycane dolls from Horne’s Department Store, along with specially themed Christopher Candycane jigsaw puzzles, aprons, scarves, bracelets, barrettes, stationery, mugs, and even a few tattered paper napkins or melted candles.
About the Author
Sue Morris is a local Pittsburgh storyteller. She explores a plethora of regional historical tales in her lectures and on her blog, Historical Dilettante.